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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 08:23 GMT 09:23 UK
China diary: Compound comforts
Former BBC Beijing correspondent Tim Luard is back in China, 25 years after his first visit, to write a series of articles for BBC News Online on how much the country has changed. He will also be writing a diary during his trip, and this is his third instalment:

My hotel is a delight.

Modern Shanghai is brash and exciting and liberated and all that, but there's a strangely reassuring feeling about coming home at the end of the day to a good old-fashioned Chinese compound.

I suspect there are many in China who, now that they have to find their own flats and jobs and doctors and the rest of it, sometimes miss the security of the four walls and guarded gates behind which every state institution, factory or housing compound used to hide.

I went to visit a young couple in the modern version of a compound last night - a middle-class, private housing estate complete with shared pool and tennis court.

But it still had its guarded gates, to watch out for unwanted callers like migrant workers, and foreign journalists.

And today I was at Fudan University, full of students discussing what private businesses they'll set up once they graduate and when they'll get their first car.

Jinjiang Hotel compound
The Jinjiang's courtyard
But it's the same old campus compound, where everyone has no more than a bicycle and there's even one of the few remaining statues of Chairman Mao. (They applied to tear it down the other day, but a note's just come in from Beijing saying leave it).

My hotel's compound, like most others, consists of a large courtyard with trees in the middle and assorted red-brick buildings around the edge.

But it's a bit smarter than most, having housed a lot of visiting dignitaries over the years.

In one of its smaller buildings, Richard Nixon signed the historic communiqué on which Sino-US relations are still based.

Right in the heart of the French concession, the hotel manages to combine the aristocratic elegance of the old Treaty Port days with the cabbage smells and other quainter aspects of the Maoist period.

Old-fashioned charm

I may not be as grand as some others who've stayed here, but somehow this slow-moving, solidly state-run establishment makes me feel grander than I know I would at the flashier hotels down the road.

Jinjiang Hotel doorman
Traditional sights like Indian doormen are making a comeback
There I would feel lost and frustrated as I wandered through enormous lobbies and spent hours trying to work out the control panels in my room.

Here I have windows that open, and big chrome taps saying hot and cold that turn on and off.

If you're lucky, water even comes out (but don't try drinking it).

And there's enough old-fashioned bureaucracy here to keep the most diehard party member happy.

When I asked if I could stay another night I was told I had to provide a written request from the local BBC bureau.

Maybe I'm just not grand enough after all.

And if I'm starting to sound like an unreformed old fogey, then I guess I'd better change my ways, as at the end of this trip I'm leaving the compound-style warmth of BBC employment after 23 years and going out on my own into the brave new world.


Click on the links below to read other excerpts from Tim Luard's diary:




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